I thought all those awful homophobia stories we hear happening in Russia could only happen outside Moscow, until it happened to me and my friends.
We were attacked in a bar in the center of Moscow. The attackers were screaming “Faggots!” while hitting us. The next day one of them found me online. He wrote me that they are going to beat ‘“faggots” until they are half-dead. The security of the bar refused to call the police and the official position of the owners was that we looked too extraordinary.
When an authoritarian government can no longer win people’s silence by giving out money because the money is running out, they start using the rhetoric of patriotism in order to maintain a semblance of unity. And if there’s no external enemy, you can always find an internal one. This summer an anti-gay law was passed in Russian State Duma. Now every person who openly speaks about homosexuals in a positive way will be fined. You can’t use rainbow symbols either. they tried to fine a milk company for using rainbow in a pastoral picture.
But as my friends and I discovered, many of the consequences of the law are much less funny. Groups of young neo-nazis throughout Russia are attacking gay teenagers, humiliating them and recording it all on the video. They stay unpunished and in numerous interviews they picture themselves as defenders of the Homeland. Two openly lesbian schoolgirls, 14 and 17 years old, committed suicide in Novorossiysk. A 23-year-old man was brutally killed after his drunk friends outed him in Volgograd.
Formally, the anti-gay law prohibits the propaganda of homosexualism to children, though nobody, including bureaucrats from Duma, knows what the propaganda of sexual preferences looks like. Actually, it would be absurd to go out in the streets with the slogans like: “Be gay! It’s cool!” And no one does. But signing the anti-gay law President Vladimir Putin gave carte blanche to all those aggressive people who were seeking an enemy. Now they are sure that they have the law on their side.They feel total impunity now. They not only express homophobia but also feel like heroes. So do the chiefs who fire employees for supporting LGBT movement.
Gays are accused of showing off their private life. But it’s government officials who think it’s necessary to invade the people’s private lives. Russian gays are just trying to defend themselves. The law was first suggested two weeks before the parliament elections. Some people think that they can teach others how to live, and the government promises that they will have an opportunity to do so. It a country where homophobia prevails it is an easy way to get more votes.
The Russian government promises that the anti-gay law will not be enforced during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi (the general idea of such an anti-ghetto seems absurd, by the way). Despite this, some Western governments and individuals are calling for a boycott of the Games. I personally don’t think it’s a good idea. Remember Eurovision: when two Finnish girls kissed to attract attention to LGBT rights even Russian federal channels had to show it. If the athletes hold rainbow flags on a ceremony in Sochi it will certainly spoil the triumph for Vladimir Putin who regards the Games as the principal project of his third term. Otherwise he wouldn’t have spent on Sochi more than any other winter Olympics have ever cost.
And in case Western countries boycott the Games, especially if they do this because of official Russian government homophobia, it will give Vladimir Putin the opportunity to show himself one more time as the leader of traditionalist world. Another film will be shown on federal TV about the decline of the Western civilization. And the houses of opposition activists who have been to America (like me) or have worked for foreign NGOs will be searched one more time. And the level of hatred in Russian society will just grow.
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